09/10/2012 04:07 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2012

Live From Toronto Film Festival: Sunday, Sept. 9

There are literally hundreds of movies up here at the Toronto International Film Festival. So the idea of a singular theme -- or even themes -- emerging (or, even more unlikely, being plotted) seems unlikely.

And yet, on my first day of press screenings here, Sunday, I saw two films that focused on people in 12-step programs. And two more in which teachers of very young children sat in their car before entering (or reentering) the school to sneak a drink. Pure coincidence, I'd say; luck of the draw.

Quality-wise, I was two for four during my first day in Toronto. As it happens, the two best films were the ones that dealt with addiction, thanks to both strong writing and emotionally compelling performances. Let's come back to those.

The day's disappointment was Passion, Brian DePalma's remake of the 2010 French film that was released in the U.S. last year as Love Crime. It seemed promising because the material itself -- a story of corporate gamesmanship between two women that leads to murder -- was so compelling, and because DePalma's casting featured Rachel McAdams, cast against type as the vicious boss (played by Kristin Scott Thomas in the original), and Noomi Rapace as the seemingly helpless underling who learns a trick or two from her boss (played by Ludivine Sagnier in Alain Corneau's original).

Both actresses in DePalma's version are terrific. But where Corneau created a cool, mysterious film whose pieces all came together at the end, DePalma can't resist giving the whole thing an operatic overlay: too much music, too many psychologically fraught camera angles. And his writing at times feels overheated, as do the changes he makes in the story, compressing the plotting of the final act in order to tack on a phony spooky -- but definitely DePalma-esque -- conclusion.

But at least I sat through that entire film; I can't say the same for Nick Cassavetes' Yellow, a film that stars his ex-wife, Heather Wahlquist, as a drug-addled teacher. The film starts with Wahlquist's character talking to what seems to be a therapist, then tries a variety of stylistic tricks -- having characters burst into opera, having the characters suddenly transported to a theatrical stage or joining a Busby Berkeley-type production number. It was neither amusing nor unique, seeming instead just plain wrong-headed and preposterous. I only lasted 30 minutes.

Smashed stars Aaron Paul and a terrific Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a married couple who enjoy getting wasted every night drinking. But she's having a harder and harder time crawling out of bed and into her first-grade classroom each morning -- and increasing trouble keeping a handle on where she winds up each night.

This commentary continues on my website.